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NFL Draft

Evaluating Mixed Bag Of Raiders’ 2020 Free Agent Class

  • The Draft Network
  • October 30, 2020
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Over the past couple decades, the Raiders have been one of the NFL’s least winning franchises. They have only had one winning season since 2002, the year they made it to the Super Bowl and lost against Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Entering year three of Gruden’s second stint with the Raiders, expectations were high, and a winning season was expected by many, including myself. 

In 2019, the Raiders finished 7-9. While the record wasn’t what Raiders fans were hoping to see, the year provided a lot of reason for optimism moving forward. It appeared that then first-year general manager Mike Mayock had struck gold with first-round running back Josh Jacobs, as well as fourth-round defensive end Maxx Crosby. Both players had exceptional rookie seasons and showed potential to be the pillars the Raiders could build around moving forward. Additionally, tight end Darren Waller experienced a breakout season in 2019 and firmly established himself among the top players at his position. With these young pieces emerging, and the fact that Derek Carr is, at the very least, a quarterback that you can win with if talent is around him, the Raiders had to think that they could make some noise in 2020 if they hit on their 2020 draft picks and added the right players in free agency. 

Las Vegas was aggressive in free agency as they clearly felt that the time to compete for the playoffs is now. They went and signed linebacker Cory Littleton to a big-ticket deal worth $35 million over three years with $22 million guaranteed. The team also signed linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, defensive end Carl Nassib, and safety Jeff Heath to shore up the defense, while also adding quarterback Marcus Mariota, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and tight end Jason Witten as key depth signings. 

As it stands the team is 3-3 and firmly in the mix for a wild-card spot. Carr is having one of his best seasons of his career, and it appears Jon Gruden finally has his guys on offense buying into his scheme. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they haven’t yet seen the return they were hoping for from their 2020 free agency class, and if they hope to stay competitive throughout the rest of the season, that will have to change. I spent some time studying the Raiders this past week and I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the team’s free agents and why they have or haven’t been working out thus far. 

Cory Littleton 

Six games played, 35 tackles (23 solo 12 asst)

Starting with the Raiders' crown jewel of their free agent class, Littleton was supposed to be the defensive playmaker the Raiders sorely needed at the second level. Littleton, who came over from the Los Angeles Rams, has been a near liability thus far in 2020, and prior to Week 7 matchup vs Tampa Bay, was leading the league in missed tackles with 11. With the Rams, Littleton was a sideline-to-sideline athletic chess piece with a knack of making splash plays both versus the run and the pass. Littleton was used as a traditional MIKE backer and was good in the run game, while being excellent in coverage and as a blitzer.

In coverage so far in 2020 he’s been just OK. He struggled in his matchups with Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski, but for the most part he has been the right spot in zone drops and is still athletic enough to compete in man coverage. The alarming part for me when watching his film so far is just how little physicality and competitiveness he has shown in the run game. There have been multiple occasions where he sees the run almost immediately, has an angle and with his speed should be able to shoot the gap and make the play, but instead Littleton will flow to the outside rather than come up and tackle, allowing the pulling lineman to cover him up and allowing a positive run for the offense.

Littleton has never been a strong stack-and-shed player, but at the very least he was able to slip, avoid ensuing blockers, and make the tackle. So far in 2020, that is not the case. He has been routinely getting washed by lineman in the second level and honestly it doesn’t even look like Littleton is making an effort to defeat those blocks. Littleton still has the ability to be a good player, so all hope isn’t lost here, but he has a long way to go in proving that he was worth that big contract he received.

Nick Kwiatkoski 

Four games played, 18 tackles (11 solo 7 asst)

The other linebacker the Raiders brought in to help shore up their defense, Kwaitkoski has been the better player so far this season. While Kwiatkoski missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a pectoral injury, he has been a rock-solid player when he is on the field. With good instincts and a quick trigger, Kwiatkoski has been good against the run and has proven to be a strong tackler in the open field. What’s even more impressive is what he has been able to do in coverage, as he has been productive versus tight ends and backs out of the backfield. Kwiatkoski staying on the field will be crucial for the Raiders moving forward as they look to finish the second half of their season strong. 

Maliek Collins 

Five games played, five tackles (2 solo 3 asst), one QB Hit

The Raiders looked to add some more disruption to their interior defensive line, and they felt adding Collins from Dallas would do the trick. Unfortunately, Collins hasn’t delivered yet. Collins was a 16-game starter for the Cowboys last season and actually played under Rod Marinelli, who was the Cowboys' defensive coordinator and is now the Raiders's defensive line coach. Collins had four sacks last season and consistently provided pressure from his 3-tech spot. Collins just hasn’t had that same impact yet for the Silver and Black. He flashes some upward juice with a couple of his rushes, but then will have long stretches where he isn’t quick off the snap and allows himself to get moved off the line of scrimmage early in the down.

Collins has really struggled as a run defender. Routinely getting washed by single and double blocks, Collins needs to continue to fight through the down and be able to anchor and not give ground. Maurice Hurst has been more effective than Collins as of late and should continue to play more snaps moving forward.

Nelson Agholor 

Six games played, 15 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns

Arguably the most impactful free agent the Raiders signed was the one who received perhaps the least amount of hype. Agholor currently leads the team in receiving touchdowns with four and leads the team’s receiver group with 292 yards. Agholor became an easy punching bag for NFL media over the last couple seasons due to drops with the Philadelphia Eagles, but so far in 2020 he has been Carr’s most reliable option outside of Waller.

Agholor still possesses very good athletic ability and has the skill set to be a weapon at all three levels of the field. He has beaten defenses deep on multiple occasions and has shown a good ability to create yards after the catch. As rookie receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards get back to full health after dealing with injuries early on, having Agholor settle in a No. 2 or 3 role would make this offense even that much more well-rounded. Great job by Mayock and his pro scouting staff led by Dwayne Joseph on betting on Agholor’s talent and upside as a former first-round pick. 

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